Corona Cases Growing in Odisha Jails

The growth in corona positive cases in Odisha has made its way to the jails, affecting inmates and staff. This has put the prison management on high alert during this pandemic. Till now, 83 inmates and 15 personnel of different correctional homes have been infected by the novel coronavirus, though there are no deaths yet.

The Berhampur prison authorities have been on their toes since the region has been the worst-hit in Odisha. At least 54 inmates and 14 staff members of the Berhampur jail have been found positive for COVID-19.

Even though overcrowding is not an issue in the prisons of the state, the source of transmission is suspected to be linked to some under-trial prisoners. The first corona positive case of an inmate was reported in Puri jail on May 1.

“The Odisha high court already directed the police to refrain from making arrests of accused in petty cases or offence where the maximum sentence is up to seven years. But we often found that the police were arresting accused in petty cases. Police produced the accused in physical or virtual courts, which subsequently remanded them to judicial custody without ordering RT-PCR test of the accused”, said an official.

The Challenge Ahead

As per the police, the RT-PCR test report is difficult to get within 24 hours. This makes it difficult for them to produce the accused to the court within the stipulated time frame. The fact that testing laboratories are flooded with samples makes it tricky to get reports quickly.

“We have a very tight protocol to combat the virus. Standard operating procedures (SOPs) are being revised depending on the situation. We have again asked all jails to strictly follow the protocols, which included isolation of new under-trial prisoners, regular health monitoring of prisoners and staffers, social distance in cells and proper hygiene inside prisons”, said Gopabandhu Mallick, the deputy inspector general (prisons).

Mallick also said that a COVID care unit has been set up inside the Berhampur jail to treat the inmates.

The authorities are also planning to shift the new accused prisoners to prisons located in non-hotspot districts. At least 7,255 inmates of different jails in the state have been released on bail and parole. Official statistics present the capacity of 85 jails in the state as 19,016. At present, the population in the jails is 16,931.

An online facility called ‘e-mulakaat’ has also been launched so that the inmates can interact with their relatives online.

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